Marxism Died in the East Because It Realized Itself in the West

The year 1989 is often viewed as the conclusion of the post-war period: in the long conflict Marxism has finally lost, while the Eastern countries are progressively taking their place in the unified world of freedom, well-being, consumption, democracy. Regarding this victory of the West, however, let us be careful: in the years immediately following 1945 the conflict was thought to be in terms of a struggle between Christian civilization and Marxism; later the opposition of democracy and totalitarianism became prevalent. It has also been said that in the post-war period the struggle between Fascism and anti-Fascism continued, at a different level. Supposedly, the present moment is when Communism is shedding the features it had in common with Fascism.

Now, nothing of this is true. Marxism has fully realized itself, but disproving its premises and promises. It did not do so due to mistakes or to betrayal by its leaders, but by the necessity of its nature. It has not expressed the radical alternative between the thesis represented by capitalism and the antithesis represented by the proletariat, it has not been the creation of an entirely new humanity. Instead, historically, it represented the transition from one stage of the bourgeoisie to another, the ulterior and definitive stage. About it, in his important and original book, Marcello Veneziani cites St. Anselm’s ontological argument, according to which today’s Occidentalism presents itself as the Id quo maius cogitari nequit, that than which nothing greater can be conceived; and he refers to some exponents of the new liberalism, who aim to establish the insuperability of the current stage reached by the neo-bourgeois society, which they conceive as the final stage.

Marxism has been the culture of the transition from the Christian-bourgeois society—of which we find the insuperable example in the work of Benedetto Croce—to the bourgeois society in its pure state. We could even say that Marxism represented the “transition to the worst” in the sense that, through Marxism, bourgeois society has shed every residual moral and religious sense, unburdening itself of all “impurities” that still tied it to traditional society, thus presenting itself as full materialism and full secularism. The West has realized everything of Marxism, except its messianic hope. “Socialism” Veneziani writes “has not inherited capitalist society, but has become included, entangled in capitalism itself; in many respects, it has been the intermediate stop on the journey from capitalism to neo-capitalism.” Veneziani notices that Western society realizes the essence of Marxism: “radical atheism and materialism, internationalism and universal non-belonging, the primacy of praxis and the death of philosophy, the domination of production and the universal manipulation of nature, technological Faustianism and equality that realizes itself as homogenization.” The new globalist liberalism, Veneziani observes, absorbs the lesson of Marxism, purifying it of all prophetic, gnostic and anti-modern slag, and of solidaristic suggestions.

Therefore we can say that the West is Marxism’s full secularization, as well as its perfect realization. It is Capitalism that absorbs Communism, using it to erase religious sacredness and national sacredness, a goal it could not have reached in any other way.

The element of Marxism, and of Socialism in general, that remains unexpressed, unrealized and betrayed in the neo-bourgeois and Occidentalist society is precisely what was “great” in Socialism: the denunciation of alienation and the hope, which was “religious” in its own way, to overcome it. This is what Veneziani emphasizes in his final pages, observing how alienation has established itself and is expanding in Western society. In fact—and allow me to recall an idea that I already presented in 1963—Western irreligion has pushed the process of alienation to its extreme consequences. The disappearance of religion has coincided with the reification of man. Thus, the exact opposite of what materialist thought had envisioned has taken place: the eclipse of religion has not brought about the end of alienation, but rather its expansion.

The affluent society, as Galbraith called it, has succeeded in eliminating the dialectic tension of the revolution while succeeding in pushing alienation to the highest degree. Alienation coincides with de-humanization and, at the same time, with the loss of every common (and not just religious) framework of values; and these two processes, which are tightly intertwined, effect the reduction of the person to a thing that Veneziani describes in his book. Thus is born the gigantic process of alienation that Veneziani sketches effectively: “alienation as loss of one’s identity, alienation as estrangement from the environment in which one lives, alienation as communal dis-integration and bewilderment in Heidegger’s sense of the word, alienation as exploitation and thus expropriation of one’s work, alienation as commodification of man.” Therefore, Western society seems not just to elude Marx’s denunciation of alienation, but to disregard it altogether, to the point that alienation realizes itself most powerfully.

Let us be careful, then, not to say that the Enlightenment has won against Marxism, and that today Marxism, purified of Asian despotism, is rejoining Enlightenment thought. Today’s Occidentalism has swept away even its own Enlightenment foundation and what used to be its highest expression, Kantian morality. In this regard, Veneziani observes that the original legitimation of the “Western project” lies in the Kantian practical imperative that says “treat humanity always as an end and never as a means.” However, Veneziani continues, if two centuries later we verify that founding project in light of its outcomes, “we must agree that the West is characterized by a complete instrumentalization of life, by a reduction of man to a means.” This reification of man marks an inversion of the premises of Occidentalism, is the most obvious expression of an heterogenesis of ends.

In truth, we can say that the features of today’s West confirm what the literature of crisis of the thirties had already predicted. But the [mindset of the] crisis is fated to merely foster the “culture of regret” which is fundamentally nostalgic, and which reaches its highest point in traditionalism. Traditionalism expresses the idea of an irreversible decline of the West, but its critique, precisely because of its complete opposition to the modern and bourgeois world, precludes itself from having any effective impact, is cut off, seems to have no influence on the world it intends to criticize, and seeks consolation in the chatter of archaic and decadent salons. A new world is rising, and we must adapt to it in order to push it in a better direction. Therefore, I think we have to agree with Veneziani’s statement that the limitation of the traditionalist critique of the West has been judging the West itself in light of premises that are not its own, by making an impossible comparison between a world shut inside his perfection, the world of tradition, and a world just as shut inside its damnation, the world of becoming. Conversely, “the most efficacious and most correct indictment of the West is the comparison between its promises and their realization.” Contrasting the civilization of being to the triumphant world of becoming means estranging ourselves rather than fighting; faced with this stark opposition, it is easy for the progressivist critique to liquidate rationalism by emphasizing that it opposes to the present a past which has irremediably passed away. The authentic traditionalist critique must follow another line, which investigates the reasons why the final result of the thought at the origins of Occidentalism not only differs from what its founders intended, but is the radical opposite.

Speaking of the nostalgic attitude, in the chapter devoted to the passion of those who are defeated there is an astute observation about the inversion in outlook between Fascism and neo-Fascism: the former was sustained by a vitalistic optimism, and by an ideology based essentially on the cult of victory; the latter, on the contrary, expresses a pessimistic and crepuscular passion for those who are defeated, which inverts, then, the original spirit of Fascism. Such passion for the defeated seems to be more widespread today than one would think at first sight. Indeed, it is not always true that today the drive to make money and to succeed is totally dominant. To the contrary, fascination with lost causes has spread, as a backlash against the dominant mentality. The winners write history, it has been said, and not the defeated. Hence solidarity with the vanquished of history is born, as a reaction.

In his survey of the critical trends against Occidentalism, Veneziani’s scope broadens to other non-nostalgic opposition movements that exist today. First, Socialism, which today faces the inescapable alternative between entering, or re-entering, the bourgeois “common home”—along the lines of liberal and secular Socialism—and attempting to rediscover the greatest and most “religious” element that lies at its origins, which puts in a critical stance against Occidentalism and neo-Capitalism. Secondly, environmentalism which, despite its efforts to the contrary, recovers its authenticity by recovering the past, and thus by criticizing modernity and its products, starting with capitalism. Veneziani identifies yet another opposition movement in the line of the “conservative revolution,” which has above all Martin Heidegger, Ernst Jünger, and Carl Schmitt as its great beginners, and the thinkers of the Nouvelle Droite as its epigones. Of these latter Veneziani highlights the merits, in his opinion, but also the limitations and inadequacies, which sometimes lead them to conform to the same secularist and immanentist perspectives of Western society that they still protest against with vigorous effectiveness.

Fourthly, Veneziani dwells on the rise of national identities, and in general on the reawakening of communities and ethnicities, observing that this process goes against the cosmopolitanism of Western society. These pages devoted to the communitarian reawakening provide the context for the analysis of the “Italian case” and its meager sense of national, cultural and historical identity.

An important moment in order to understand the current development of Occidentalism, and at the same time to identify the last critical attempt in the West, was the protest movement of 1968. To Veneziani, the historical result of the protest movement seems to fall, in the final analysis, within the “accellerated process of Westernization in the sense of rapid secularization of society”; therefore, he interprets the protest movement as a season that was eccentric but still internal to the unfolding of Occidentalism. In this sense I described 1968 as a decidedly intra-bourgeois revolution, in the sense that it marked the transition from the old to the new stage of the bourgeoisie. In fact, we can detect here an analogy with Marxism: what Marxism has been, from a philosophical standpoint, in a larger process—namely a transitory stage from capitalism to neo-capitalism—the protest movement has been, from a historical standpoint, and even from the standpoint of morals, during a more limited period.

In this respect I agree with Veneziani when he deems Pasolini to be the author who revealed most starkly the intimate essence of the protest movement. Indeed, Pasolini said that in practice the protest movement helped the new power destroy the values of which neo-capitalist power wanted to rid itself: tradition, the religious sense, attachment to one’s roots, sense of authenticity, of the mystery, the organic bond with a community of men and values. Not coincidentally, Veneziani adds, “when those young people rid themselves of the ideological and political ‘superstructure’ of the revolutionary type, they became agents and functionaries of the consumeristic and bourgeois utilitarianism which then characterized them in the nineteen-eighties.”

However, were those the only goals of the protest movement? Actually, the protest movement of 1968 “sang in two different registers.” One can be broadly identified with the Frankfurt School, expressed the rebellion against the technocratic and scientistic society, and was perhaps prevalent at the beginning of the protest movement. The other expressed itself in the opposition between revolutionary spirit and traditional spirit, and prevailed in the end. That opposition was precisely what originated the alliance between protesters and bourgeois radicalism, which marked the sunset of the protest movement itself. Its mistake, as Veneziani observes, was to identify the traditional values with the capitalist system which was, instead, their fiercest enemy. It thus contributed to breach “not the support systems and the alliances of capitalism, but the last constraints that held back the capitalist system.”

Ultimately, in order to grasp the full meaning of Occidentalism and of its transitional stages—such as have been Marxism and, in some respects, the 1968 protest movement—we must go back to the idea of Revolution that has characterized the last two centuries. The idea of Revolution is the opposite of the idea of Providence. Indeed, the Revolution reckons that man can redeem himself through the liberation process. The idea of Providence, on the contrary, reckons that history is not entirely made by men, and instead something which does not belong to man, which is not decided by him, intervenes in its course and its outcomes. Now, contemporary society, and the present collapse of Communism, show the failure of the idea of Revolution, brought about by the inversion of its original premises. Conversely, they show the victory of the idea of Providence, in the sense of confirming that the path of history does not match entirely the will of men, and actually diverges from it to the point of producing the opposite of what they intend; thus confirming what Vico wrote about the “historical fact of Providence” which acts “without any human awareness or counsel, and oftentimes against the intentions of men.”

Now that it is burning out, the revolutionary cycle is revealing itself to be not an irreversible process, as both the progressives and the traditionalists deemed it to be, but a reversible historical process, against which then one can fight.

EDITORIAL NOTE: 30 December 2019 was the 30th anniversary of Augusto Del Noce's death. This essay was the last thing Del Noce wrote, about a week before his death. Its served as the foreword to Marcello Veneziani's book, La societa globale ei suoi nemici. Our special thanks goes out to Professor Carlo Lancelotti for translating this essay and obtaining permission from the Del Noce estate to reproduce it here

Featured Image: Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin, Fantasy, 1925; Source: Wikimedia Commons, PD-Old-70.


Augusto Del Noce

Augusto Del Noce (1910-1989) was professor at La Sapienza University of Rome and a distinguished philosopher, political thinker, and public intellectual. 

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